An OIF veteran is someone that has served in the U.S. military during the Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) conflict. Read on to learn more about these veterans and their specific concerns.
What is an OIF Veteran?
OIF veterans are enlisted military personnel that served in the Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) campaign of 2003. The conflict resulted in the death of nearly 4,500 service personnel and injury to more than 31,000 others.
Thousands of OIF veterans have been disabled or ill due to their participation in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Consequently, many are eligible to receive disabled veterans fits and services from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
What is the History of OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom)?
Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) began on March 19, 2003, in response to the Iraqi invasion and annexation of Iran. The primary objectives were to eliminate the Iraqi regime’s weapons of mass destruction, end Saddam Hussein’s reign, and instill an Iraqi-supported democratic government.
The conflict ended after four days of ground fighting, and control over the capital of Baghdad was assumed after 21 days. Even so, the U.S.-led coalition struggled to secure peace in the region for years afterward.
How Did the OIF Affect Veterans?
Many veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom experienced a range of physical and mental health issues due to their deployment in Iraq. Some of the most prevalent were diseases related to exposure or ingestion of particulate matter. Many of these can be traced to specific conditions and situations that occur in a military environment.
Some of the most debilitating conditions resulted from exposure to “airborne hazards .”These are defined as contaminants and toxic substances that OIF veterans breathe in from the air in contaminated environments. Unfortunately, many service members are thought to have been exposed to these hazards during OIF.
The war presented many opportunities for service personnel to come in contact with airborne hazards. Open burn pits from which toxic fumes and smoke emanated were quite common. Exposure to sand and dust was also a constant factor, often for prolonged periods.
Breathing in smoke and fumes from open burn pits poses certain health `risks. The pits were typically used to burn waste products such as paints, chemicals, and even medical and human waste. As a result, those exposed frequently experienced irritation of the eyes and throat, coughing, difficulty breathing, and rashes or itching.
Many of these issues cleared up without needing further treatment when the individual was removed from the affected area. But close contact with the contaminants, and long-term exposure, have resulted in chronic health problems.
Exposure to burn pits has also been linked to presumptive conditions such as brain, head, kidney, and gastrointestinal cancer. These and other conditions are presumed to have been caused by the toxic material and fine particulates emitted by open burn pits.
Other common presumptive conditions include lymphoma and lymphatic cancers, post-service asthma, chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic rhinitis and sinusitis, and many other types of cancer.
Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral Effects
Many veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom also experienced mental, emotional, and behavioral issues due to their deployment. These include depression, apathy, anxiety, irritability, irrational rage and anger, antisocial impulses, and lethargy.
Veterans commonly experienced difficulty returning to their normal lives and reestablishing relationships with friends and family members. It is common to lose interest in things or activities that have previously given them pleasure and satisfaction, including sex, family relationships, and hobbies.
An alarming number of veterans suffered from chronic depression and even developed suicidal tendencies. Without proper treatment, many found it extremely difficult to resume their former place in society.
For many OIF veterans, the moral injuries caused by their military service were just as debilitating as the physical and mental injuries. In fact, moral injury was often the root of the physical and mental issues they suffered.
“Moral injury” refers to a broad and varied range of emotional responses to traumatic and challenging events and circumstances. For OIF veterans, it often resulted from morally ambiguous situations that caused them to question the morality of their roles and actions.
Many cases involved questioning long-held notions of “right” and “wrong” and having these overturned. This often leads to a severe existential crisis that makes the sufferer question why they were even alive and what purpose they served in the grand scheme of things.
How Does the VA Support OIF Veterans?
The United States Department of Veterans Affairs offers a range of benefits and services to military personnel that have served in OIF and subsequently developed a disability or illness resulting from their deployment. OIF veteran benefits include compensation for medical problems that are presumably related to contaminant and particulate matter exposure.
What are the Common Challenges Faced by OIF Veterans?
Many OIF veterans experienced physical and mental health issues directly related to their deployment in Iraq. Post traumatic stress disorder is of course common. Moral injuries are also prevalent, which has resulted in severe physical and mental consequences and higher VA disability rates.
As with veterans of many other conflicts, OIF veterans often struggle to find employment, reestablish personal relationships, and return to their roles as active and productive members of society. Trauma collected from combat exposure affects these veterans for a long time. For some, these challenges can last for years after leaving the service and may even remain for life if they do not get the appropriate help and all necessary mental health treatment.
How can OIF Veterans Receive Support for Their Physical Injuries?
OIF veterans can file disability claims for injuries and health conditions they have incurred within ten years of leaving the military. If approved, they may receive VA health care and other health benefits to which they are entitled by merit of their service. Guidelines on filing disability claims are available on the Veteran Affairs website.
VA healthcare provides disability compensation in monthly tax-free payments. Eligibility is dependent on three requirements: an illness or health condition resulting from air, soil, or water hazard exposure, previous active duty in a combat setting where such hazards were present, and an honorable discharge.
What is the Rate of Suicide Among OIF Veterans?
A study conducted by Tim Bullman and Aaron Schneiderman sought to examine suicide risk among veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), and Operation New Dawn (OND).
Among the 1,935,168 veterans involved in the study, 4,618 committed suicide. It was also revealed that higher suicide rates were found among those in active duty, as opposed to reserve and National Guard veterans.
Higher suicide rates were also found among Caucasian personnel as opposed to non-white veterans. The same was true for both men and women veterans compared to officers. In general, more army and marine personnel committed suicide than navy and air force personnel.
How can Families Support Their OIF Veteran Loved Ones?
Families of OIF veterans should recognize and acknowledge the difficulties that their loved ones may face as a result of their deployment. Caring, patience, and understanding are essential, as is a healthy and open flow of communication.
Family members may also participate in programs designed to help them care for veterans with PTSD or mental illness. More information is available at http://dvbic.dcoe.mil/audience/family-friends. You can also call the VA’s caregiver support line at 1 (855) 260-3274.
What Resources are Available for OIF Veterans to Access?
OIF veterans are encouraged to participate in the “Returning Support for Veterans Program” (RSVP). The program provides veterans and their families with information on benefits, education, health services, employment, and other concerns.
RSVP can be reached by calling the CARE-LINE of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services at 1-800-662-7030. Interested parties may also send an email to [email protected].
Mental health services are available at the VA Palo Alto campus. Interested veterans may visit the site to make an appointment for a consultation.
There is also a Veterans Crisis Line that can be reached by calling 1-800-273-8255. Veterans may also receive assistance by calling the Santa Clara County Mental Health Assessment Line at 1-800-704-0900.
What is the Rate of Homelessness Among OIF Veterans?
A cross-sectional study by the VA known as “VetPop 2007” revealed that there were 73,740 homeless veterans of the OIF and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). This figure was derived from the 18,997,936 veterans that established contact with the VA homeless services from 2001 to 2007.
Administrative data derived from the HCRV Program of the VA also revealed that there were 9,201 homeless among the 30,348 veterans incarcerated in state and federal prisons. Homelessness among incarcerated veterans is five times higher than that of the general population‒30% versus 6%.
How can Communities Support OIF Veterans?
Communities should provide easy access to therapeutic services, crisis hotlines, and other initiatives that promote the continuing care of OIF veterans. In addition, more efforts should be made to address returning veterans’ concerns concerning employment, physical and mental healthcare, and teaching them how to return to being active contributing members of society.